Good gear: In-line skates

Your bearings getting a little rusty? Your boots seen better days? Rob Cole test-drives the latest rolling stock
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The Independent Online

Patents for "in-line skates" date back to the 1800s, but the harsh ride of the clay or wooden wheels restricted their appeal. It wasn't until skateboard manufacturers started pouring polyurethane wheels in the late 1970s that in-line skates made a long-overdue return.

The Olsen Brothers launched the Rollerblade Company in America in 1982, introducing a new form of low-impact exercise and urban recreation to a population undergoing an exercise boom. Rollerblade's first skates featured the new smooth, durable polyurethane wheels, but the poor-fitting plastic boots were torture for early skaters. During the mid-Eighties, the K2 Corporation revolutionised the industry with their soft-boot technology, which was soon imitated by other manufacturers.

Fast-forward to 2001, where in-line skate design is a developed art and the days of blisters upon blisters are thankfully long gone. Choosing skates can still be a minefield, though, as inexpensive, unproven brands from the Far East flood the market. Stick with the big-four brands – Rollerblade, Roces, K2 and Salomon – and you won't go wrong. Skating is divided into several disciplines – recreational, racing, aggressive, hockey and off-road. Expect to pay around £100 for a quality, entry-level skate, around £140 for a faster mid-level skate and £200 for an expert pair.

Entry-level skates often have smaller wheels (70-72mm in diameter) and slower bearings to keep speeds sensible until you can skate with control. Mid-level skates have larger wheels and faster bearings, while expert skates are fitted with 80mm wheels and high- speed bearings.

Budget an additional £30 for wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. Protective gear is important, as one bad fall can put you in plaster for weeks. It's also worth paying for a couple of lessons, which can make the difference between life-long participation and something best forgotten. The In-line Skating Association publish a list of qualified UK instructors at www.iisa.org.

When choosing skates, comfort is the overriding aim. Don't be fooled by price or fashion – use your feet to make up your mind. Choose a couple of different pairs of skates, and try them on using whatever socks you will be skating in. Each manufacturer uses a different last (the mould used to shape the fabric liner inside the plastic shell), leading to variations in size between brands. I wear UK size 8 K2 skates and UK size 9.5 Rollerblade skates to achieve the same fit. Women can now buy a wide range of gender-specific skates that really do fit better, and help prevent biomechanical injuries caused by the compromise of using men's skates.

One last point: watch out for shops trying to push you into buying ill-fitting skates, as they may want to clear dead stock by selling it to novice skaters. If you are unhappy with the fit, or the shop is trying to push you to a higher price point, then find another shop.

For more information, visit: www.roces.com; www.salomoninline.com; www.k2skates.com; www.rollerblade.com

K2 Velocity
Dual-diameter wheel system: 76mm wheels front and back, 72mm in middle. Breathable tongue increases airflow, plush padding and heel-locking instep straps help fit.
Price: £115

K2 Eclipse
Extremely comfortable entry-level skate, stunning for the price. Great support, simple heel brake for stopping, composite frame absorbs road vibration. 72mm wheels, can be changed for larger ones when you're ready.
Price: £99

Roces NYC
High-performance model from Italian experts. Shell consists of ventilated hard plastic outer, flexible plastic inner and 'slow-memory' foam liner. One of few skates to use Biomex ergonomic technology, giving more comfortable and efficient skating. Highest-quality Hyper X-360 wheels and Abec 5 bearings with metal mounting parts give lightning-quick ride.
Price: £199

Rollerblade Core TI
Innovative skate from new range of original in-line company, with Outlast thermal-adjusting fabric, active braking technology and super-stiff titanium-alloy frame. Fast 76mm Hyper wheels and Abec 5 bearings, perfect for fast fitness skating and long urban outings. Men's fittings only.
Price: £139.95

Next week: golf shoes

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